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Teens getting sunburnt rather than sun smart

Susie O’Brien, March 2, 2021 6:45PM Herald Sun

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Sunsmart twins Georgie (left) and Alex Muir, 16 covering up with hats and sunscreen. Picture: Mark Stewart media_cameraSunsmart twins Georgie (left) and Alex Muir, 16 covering up with hats and sunscreen. Picture: Mark Stewart


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Aussie teens are becoming sunburnt rather than sun smart due to a lack of awareness about the sun’s dangers, new data shows.

Last summer, teenagers accounted for one third of the 177 people brought to Victorian hospital emergency departments for treatment for sunburn.

Heather Walker, the head of SunSmart at Cancer Council Victoria, wants more to be done to stop students from getting burnt.

“The high number of teens getting burnt badly enough to require hospital treatment shows how important it is to cover up when the UV is 3 and above. This message is getting lost somewhere which is a real worry,” she said.

“Schools play a big role in influencing attitudes to sun protection. The absence of a UV policy including a mandate* for hat wearing sends a message to students that sun protection is not essential which couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.

“UV exposure is just as dangerous for students at secondary school as it is for children during the early years,” Ms Walker said.

Some high schools do have sun protection policies but they often do not include blanket* hat-wearing rules.

More than 90 per cent of Victorian primary schools are signed up to the SunSmart program, but the number of secondary schools is much lower. Other states’ SunSmart programs have similarly high participation rates for primary and lower rates for secondary schools.

Ms Walker said that while employers had a legal obligation* to protect outdoor workers from harmful overexposure to UV rays, teenagers did not have the same protection.

“Sun protection is a shared responsibility between schools, parents and students. We appreciate schools have a lot to contend with, however UV is a health and safety risk and comes under a school’s duty of care,” she said.

Her comments come as melanoma* and non-melanoma skin cancers account for the largest number of cancers diagnosed in Australia each year. In 2019, more than 2800 Victorians were diagnosed with melanoma, with 270 losing their lives. For Victorians aged 15-29, melanoma is currently the third most commonly diagnosed cancer.

Ms Walker said skin cancer prevention needed to be maintained throughout life.

“We need to remind young people that what they do today in terms of UV exposure can have a significant impact on their risk of skin cancer down the track – and it may be sooner than they think,” she said.

Parents can help teens by:

  • talking about sun safety
  • helping them become aware of the risks of sunburn and melanoma in their age group;
  • suggesting fake tans (which do not provide sun protection) instead of sun exposure;
  • being a good role model for sun protection.
  • The free SunSmart app has information on what protection you’ll need outdoors today.

More information at


  • mandate: official policy or permission to get something done
  • blanket: across every situation
  • obligation: duty
  • melanoma: a type of skin cancer


Healthy Harold is here to answer your questions

Danger! You’re not using enough sunscreen

What happens when you get sunburnt?

Teens given stern sun danger warning


  • Why is the number 177 mentioned?
  • Who is Heather Walker?
  • At what UV level should you protect your skin?
  • Do fake tans give you sun protection?
  • What app mentioned gives you the current UV level?


1. High School and Hats
Work with a partner and list the possible reasons why secondary schools don’t enforce wearing hats outside, at least during terms 1 and 4, like most primary schools do.

Why do so many secondary schools not have a ‘No hat, No outside’ rule:

Do you think these reasons are acceptable enough to leave it to individual kids or do you think all secondary schools should enforce the wearing of a hat?

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical education, Personal and social, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
UV over 3 requires sun protection. Even on a cold, cloudy day UV can still be much higher than 3, requiring sun protection. Think of some strategies that families or schools could implement to encourage sunscreen and hats to prevent sun damage and skin cancers in the future.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Health and Physical education, Critical and creative thinking

Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.

Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Describe the perfect hat that you would be happy to wear all the time, for every outdoor activity.
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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